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Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and The Bomb Paperback – April 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Drawing on captured Nazi documents found in Soviet archives and other recently released materials, Cassidy (J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century) offers a new view of the German wunderkind Werner Heisenberg (1901–1976), who won the 1932 Nobel Prize in physics for revolutionizing the nascent field of quantum physics, first with his matrix interpretation of quantum mechanics, then with his famous uncertainty principle. What Cassidy seeks to understand is why Heisenberg chose—indeed fought—to remain in Germany under the Nazi regime and then took a leadership role in its efforts to split the atom. Heisenberg later rationalized these activities, but Cassidy shows that the account in the scientist's memoirs doesn't always agree with evidence in the recovered documents. Heisenberg's famous wartime meeting with his one-time mentor Niels Bohr in Copenhagen is parsed in detail as Cassidy considers their conflicting accounts. Exhaustively detailed yet eminently readable, this is an important book, though it moves too quickly through Heisenberg's 30 postwar years. Photos. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

David C. Cassidy is the author of "J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century," "Einstein and Our World," and "Uncertainty." Professor of Natural Sciences at Hofstra University, he has served as Associate Editor of "The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press (April 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934137286
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934137284
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Historian of science at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY. For more information, see http://www.dcassidybooks.com/dc.html

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By G. H. Lander on September 20, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb
David C. Cassidy
Bellevue Literary Press, NY, 2009

David Cassidy has written what surely must be the definitive work on Werner Heisenberg. He clearly likes the subject, as this is his second book on the same person! The previous one: "Uncertainty: The life and science of Werner Heisenberg" appeared in 1991. The present book draws on more material, has a wider scope, and at least on the subject of the German nuclear-weapon program draws conclusions that would appear to this reviewer as beyond contention.

After a brilliant career, the Nobel Prize in physics at the age of 31 (in 1932), Heisenberg was faced with the onset of the Nazi regime. His love of his country and culture meant that he refused to leave Germany. He never joined the Nazi party, but was faced with living, and working, with the regime. Cassidy finds this the most fascinating aspect of Heisenberg, and it is difficult to disagree.

Many of Heisenberg's actions appear difficult to comprehend with the advantage of hindsight; for example, the famous visit to Niels Bohr in 1941 (the subject of Michael Frayn's wonderful play) is covered in length. We also (since 2002) have the advantage of the Bohr archives to set the record straight on this visit. Cassidy puts them in perspective with what Heisenberg had to suffer at the hands of not only the regime, but also the German clique (led by Nobel Laureates Stark & Lenard) who promoted "Aryan Physics". Specifically, they tried to eliminate all references to Einstein and relativity, and, just for good measure, quantum mechanics as well. Heisenberg's work was inextricably tied into both concepts, and he was vigorously attacked.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By nomdeplume on May 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I am not a scientist but I was introduced to QM by a lecture I stumbled upon. That being said I have started to read several books on the matter. Alice in Quantumland etc.

I really like this book but it is really intense. It is not easy reading and takes a fair amount of understanding of QM and german, bavarian, prussian politics...beer hall putsch anyone?

What effort this book takes (for me it was alot) is equally rewarded with an amazing tale of the search for an explanation to the laws and understanding of sub atomic particles. These men had to invent new methods to actually describe what the secondary and tertiary effects of what they were doing.

Check it out.
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Format: Paperback
This is a biography of Werner Heisenberg, from birth to death (actually before his birth, since it covers both his father and his paternal grandfather). While not formally divided as such; the book is divided into two parts, Heisenberg's life and physics before the Nazi assumption of power in Germany and what happened during and after. The first section describes Heisenberg's development as a physicist and provides a good picture of Germany and German science before 1933. It also shows Heisenberg's personal life, especially his involvement with the German youth movement and his involvement with the crushing of the communist government of Bavaria that formed in the aftermath of WWI. It covers the physics that he developed, but only in a superficial manner. This is not a physics book, but aspects of his physics are discussed. I found the discussion of his opposition to Schrodinger's wave approach to be illuminating, as well as his eventual acceptance of the Copenhagen interpretation of it and its incorporation of his uncertainty principle. As noted, the presentation of the physics he developed is very general, but I feel may nonetheless be indecipherable to someone who has no previous exposure to the concepts of physics, especially quantum mechanics. However, if they are willing to ignore any confusion that this presentation may engender they will be rewarded by an interesting biography. Those, like myself, who are familiar with these concepts, will be treated to the story of the evolution of this field and perhaps to a clarification of some points of controversy - I found this to be the case as it clarified Heisenberg's position relative to that of Schrodinger, Bohr and Born.

The second part of the book is equally interesting.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on April 4, 2013
Format: Paperback
One of the best books I've read in years. It really covers three subjects, the life of Werner Heisenberg, the development of post-Einstein physics in the 1920's, and the story of life and working in Germany during the Nazi era.

The life part is about what you would expect of a genius child. He was born, he grew up, went to school, got married, had a bunch of kids, grew older, got cancer and died. He enjoyed life, loved physics, music, his wife and kids. What more can you expect?

Not long after Einstein's work on relativity was published, it became clear that his brilliant extension of the physics of Newton didn't cover what was happening when the subject being studied got very small, like for instance the components that make up atoms. In the 1920's the top physicists of the day were working on describing the electron and its place in the atom. The result was quantum theory. And Heisenberg was intimately involved in these developments. Here is an excellent discussion on how these theories were developed by the leading physicists of the day, including Heisenberg (Nobel prize in 1931.)

Finally, what does a man do when he loves his country, even when it is taken over by madmen. Heisenberg never joined the Nazi party. He held their concepts in contempt. He was close enough to the July attempt to kill Hitler that had the investigation gone the other way he probably would have been killed. This part of the book includes the attempted development of the German Atomic Bomb. It isn't known what he actually thought about the bomb. You can point to mistakes he made, to studies he didn't complete, perhaps to some mistakes he made in calculations (that perhaps he didn't even make).
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